PORTLAND, Ore. —  From student, to teacher, to social worker, to business owner.   Jessie Burke has made her way along a varied career path.  Burke hopes her next stop, is a stint on the Multnomah County Commission, representing District 2.

“I own the Society Hotel.”  She has one location in Portland’s Old Town and another in Bingen, Washington. She’s now a partner and C.E.O. of the Society Hotel Brand.

That’s not how she started out.  “I’m originally from Washington D.C.   My undergraduate degree is in teaching. I went to be a social worker after teaching at an after school program at Roosevelt High School. And went back to get my master’s in public administration.”

She says disillusionment led to a big change in her life.

“Many people, myself included, in college, you think that government and nonprofit are doing God’s work.  And private sector is the devil early on.  And that’s definitely how I came to the table. And then I had this poignant moment where I did an internship at Prosper Portland.   I was sure was going to be a sense of urgency for the community and efficiency.  And how we affected change.  And I actually felt like everyone was not urgent, and was running for public office and I was heartbroken.”

She says this is what’s breaking her heart now.

“That stuff is crushing me.  Seeing people making policies that are not working ground level.  That are not front facing.  And seeing the effects.   People dying outside. I have people dying in my hotel rooms because they think that they can dabble in the drugs. And I have to get the coroner in the building.   Hopefully it doesn’t affect the experience of the other guests.”

She told other small business owners at the East Portland Chamber, she shares their concerns.

“One elected official once asked me, What do your customers say? What do you think they say? What a terrible place this is. I rely on people not knowing where we’re located. I understand any of you in business. I know what you’re going through.  We are drowning in Old Town right now.”

If voters choose her to be their representative in Multnomah County’s District 2, these will be her priorities. “Three things. We need a central database of available shelter beds. We need sobering centers. And we need measurable metrics for every contract.”


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